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         The History and The Culture of Chess

The Imagery of Chess -Surrealism and Chess
July 2007

Dr. Gregory Zilboorg
(1890 - 1959)

It's said that Dr. Zilboorg, when he first arrived in the United States, spoke only Russian and French, but he secluded himself in his room for three months during which he learned impeccable English. Zilboorg was a prominent psychoanalyst in NYC. He apparently collected art and played chess. He is listed on the brochure as one of the players in the blindfold demonstration, though he was replaced.  He contribution to the Imagery of Chess show was the prototype Bauhaus chess set from 1924 built by Josef Hartwig.

Joseph Hartwig's 1924 Bauahus chess set
Notice how the piece design attempts to mimic the movement of the piece

all the pieces tuck away neatly inside the box

the Bauhaus pieces on display at MOMA


Staatliches Bauhaus was a school of art or perhaps even an art movement all to itself.

It's founder, Walter Gropius, wrote in the Bauhaus manifesto:

      The ultimate aim of all creative activity is a building! The decoration of buildings was once the noblest function of fine arts, and fine arts were indispensable to great architecture. Today they exist in complacent isolation, and can only be rescued by the conscious co-operation and collaboration of all craftsmen. Architects, painters, and sculptors must once again come to know and comprehend the composite character of a building, both as an entity and in terms of its various parts. Then their work will be filled with that true architectonic spirit which, as "salon art", it has lost.

The old art schools were unable to produce this unity; and how, indeed, should they have done so, since art cannot be taught? Schools must return to the workshop. The world of the pattern-designer and applied artist, consisting only of drawing and painting must become once again a world in which things are built. If the young person who rejoices in creative activity now begins his career as in the older days by learning a craft, then the unproductive "artist" will no longer be condemned to inadequate artistry, for his skills will be preserved for the crafts in which he can achieve great things.

Architects, painters, sculptors, we must all return to crafts! For there is no such thing as "professional art". There is no essential difference between the artist and the craftsman. The artist is an exalted craftsman. By the grace of Heaven and in rare moments of inspiration which transcend the will, art may unconsciously blossom from the labour of his hand, but a base in handicrafts is essential to every artist. It is there that the original source of creativity lies.

Let us therefore create a new guild of craftsmen without the class-distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsmen and artists! Let us desire, conceive, and create the new building of the future together. It will combine architecture, sculpture, and painting in a single form, and will one day rise towards the heavens from the hands of a million workers as the crystalline symbol of a new and coming faith.


The history of Staatliches Bauhaus in non-lineal and very complex. Concisely, it was founded in 1919 in Wiemar where it built a solid reputation for excellence until budget restrictions force it to close and reopen in Dessau where funding was more readily available and where it eventually turned profitable. Unfortunately, the situation in Germany itself was unstable and Bauhaus moved again in 1932, this time to Berlin where it was forced to close in 1933 under pressure from the Nazi party. Many great artists, including Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Gunta Stölzl, Piet Mondrian, László Moholy-Nagy taught or lectured at Bauhus.

a 1924 advertisement for Hartwig's chess set

The Bauhaus school believed that craftsmanship and fine art should be united and that the distinction between the two was an artificial one: all artists were merely elevated craftsmen and all craftsmen should be artists. Besides the aesthetical aspect, craftsmen must also be concerned with the practical side of their work, such as availability of materials, costs and production techniques. In order to accomplish this goal, Bauhaus employed a craft system. Beginning students were called apprentices. After three semesters they could sit for their journeyman's exams. Upon passing these exams, they could enter a course of study that would allow them to become masters of craft. Each workshop (metal, weaving, pottery, furniture, typography and wall painting - not counting the art and architecture schools) employed a master of form and a master of crafts to involve the students in both the aesthetical and the technical sides of their work.

Josef Hartwig was a master of craft in the furniture workshop. He was born in Munich on March 13, 1880 and died in Frankfurt on November 13, 1856. Thirteen was both his lucky and unlucky number.

Hartwig created the chess set as well as a chess table and chair:


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